Not only did gas go up last week, but diesel fuel as well. As we have a generator to charge our battery bank and drive vehicles, we know we need to cut down our consumption until we can do even more by putting in a solar array and wind charger next year. We have already found an old 1990 Ford Festiva (42 mpg) that we’re buying from a shirt-tail relative. It’s a good, solid, well-maintained car. Yesterday Will built a temporary stand for our two small solar panels, driving concrete rebar into the ground to anchor it. He and David screwed the panels down and ran the wiring into the basement and small charge controller. Yes, they’re small, one is only 15 watts and the other 45 watts, but the needle on the controller says that even during a cloudy, snowy day, they’re charging our battery bank. And even if it lets us go a few hours more without running the generator, that’s a plus!

I am real concerned about the cost of diesel fuel, however. No, we don’t have tractors or other vehicles that use it, BUT nearly everything we buy is trucked and trucks do use diesel fuel…as do the tractors that big farms use to grow corn, wheat, sugar beets, etc. Even last week, I bought a bag of chicken feed and it was $22.95! This is mixed laying grains, not organic, not laying mash. Plain old chicken feed! Ouch! I’m still reeling. So not only are we cutting down on gas, but we’re also rethinking our animal feed. I like to feed my animals plenty of grain…whether they need it or not, just so I can see their enjoyment. That’s stopping. We’re evaluating their real needs and they’re getting just what they need, with carrots or other treats, not store-bought grain. The growing young animals will be getting high protein feed and the milkers and old horses will get more carbohydrates, but the grain-for-treats is stopping.

I’m stocking up on the real cheap baking/holiday store items right now. I know they’ll never be cheaper and will probably be a whole lot higher in the future.

But I know that we can heat our house primarily from wood from our land, we can eat a whole lot of what we grow and raise, and we’re far better off than many folks around the country. For this we are profoundly grateful.

Readers’ Questions:

Grinding wheat

I have used a wheat grinder recently for the first time. There was a lot of hull that would not regrind. What do you do with that? It seem like an awful lot to throw away. Also do you use the same amount of freshly ground flour as you would other flour? Do you have a ratio to how much wheat makes how much flour? Thanks for all you do to help make us self reliant.

Cindy Adams
Florence, Alabama

I’m not sure you mean by “hull,” as wheat should be threshed before you grind, then winnowed to remove any more chaff and hulls in the threshed wheat. Most grain mills will entirely grind all of the wheat into flour; many cheaper ones need to have the flour re-ground a couple of times as the first grind is quite coarse, but does not contain any hulls. Some better mills can be set to grind finer with a screw. If yours does, tighten up the burrs. If that doesn’t work, I’d call the manufacturer and ask about your problem. Sometimes a person-to-person conversation resolves an issue in short order.
Good luck. No, there really isn’t a ratio, but you should get just about as much flour as you had wheat — just in a different form. — Jackie

Grape seed extract

Please tell me how to make grape seed extract. Can not find a simple recipe anywhere! Perhaps you can help me!

Stephanie Hibdon
Barnett, Missouri

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to extract oil from grape seeds. Basically, you rinse the leftover seeds after making grape juice. These are briefly dried, then pressed to release the oil. You need a cold press, which you might be able to fashion using a bottle jack and two pieces of steel. The seeds are crushed and the oil released. I’d imagine you could then pour the crushed, pressed seeds into a clean container with enough water to cover. The oil would rise to the top, where you could skim it off. Even at this, you can see it is quite labor intensive and requires a LOT of grape seeds. — Jackie

Tomato soup recipe

While I was waiting for your chili recipe to come out of the canner, I was looking into the tomato soup recipe on page 196. It says “set aside 1 quart of the juice”. What happens to it? We really don’t much care for store bought soups and we eat a lot of tomato, so I’m anxious to try this. I hope your new book will have more Meals-in-a-jar recipes. They are so helpful. We hope this winter won’t give you too many problems. Thanks for all your help on questions your readers have.

Carol Bandy
Hightown, Virginia

Oops. You just mix that quart with the parsley leaves until they’re pretty re-hydrated. Then you pour it into your big batch of juice/puree and continue. Jackie

Building a food storage area

I live in a rancher. There is no basement except for a vented crawl space. I am 5’6″ tall and I can sit upright in the crawl space. The crawl space is block with a brick exterior. There is no insulation on the walls or in the floor joists. The earth is covered with 10mil + plastic barrier.

My garage will hold 3 cars with plenty of space on 3 sides. The floor is concrete, the walls, ceiling, (2) walk-in doors and (2) garage doors are all insulated. There is a 30K BTU propane heater for extreme emergencies. The lowest temperature in winter that I’ve seen is about 35-38* – in summer the temps can become as hot as it is out side.

Considering all of the above if I were to build a food storage area in this garage, what would you recommend I do to prevent the stored food from being damaged in the heat of the summer?

Also considering that in a black out or other emergency the electric grid would be down for days in summer weather? Also asking all this in regards to having no electricity during a black out for what ever length of time

Cave City, Kentucky

I think if I were going to build a food storage pantry in your garage, I’d heavily insulate one corner, preferably a north corner, as it would not get any sun exposure from outside. I would insulate all four walls, plus the ceiling. By installing a sliding vent, you can keep the enclosure from getting too humid. You don’t want a window in this room, as it not only lets in light, but also summer heat. In the winter, you can probably just keep the door open, using your heater, should the temps get severely dangerous (approaching freezing).

For the rest of your house, in case of a blackout, I’d invest in a good moderate-sized generator to run essentials that I would plug directly into the unit, via extension cords. This would eliminate any dangers to electrical company linemen, cost much less than the typical generator that is tied into the system, and would be quick and easy to operate. You want one that is large enough to power your furnace blower (winter), your well pump (all seasons), a few lights and a small television or radio so you can be kept in the loop, regarding other problems or possible repairs to the system. — Jackie

Cake in a jar

I’m a master canner. I only feel comfortable using Ball or USDA recipes. I’ve come across a recipe for cake in a jar. It says to bake it and then put the lid on and it will seal, no water bath or pressure canning required. What keeps this from spoiling and developing botulism when its an anaerobic, no oxygen, environment.

Joyce Forsmann
Grangeville, Idaho

I used to make these cakes and they were not only very good, but kept well in the pantry. However, there was research that indicated that it was possible for the development of botulism in these jars. What probably kept these cakes from spoiling was the amount of sugar involved. But, due to the possibility of a problem of contamination, I quit making these cakes in a jar and don’t recommend that other canners make them, either. — Jackie

Excess milk

With it being just the three of you, how many milking does do you have and what do you do with all the milk?

Margie Buchwalter
Palmer, Alaska

Right now, we are breeding seven does of our own. Of these, we’ll be letting our best kids nurse on their moms. The rest, we’ll be selling so as the kids are sold, we will milk the does. This milk gives us plenty of dairy products: milk, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, and cheese. It also lets us raise a couple of bottle calves “free” by not having to buy powdered calf milk replacer that is now almost $60 a bag. — Jackie

Preserving persimmons

Can I safely home can persimmons? They are the Fuyu type persimmons. The recipes that I have found make me think that they are not safe for home canning. I found a web site that said their pH is between 4.4 and 4.7. Even at that, I would think that they could be pressure canned. I was thinking about cutting them up in to 1″ pieces and canning them in a simple syrup. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Brenda Pence
Jasper, Texas

As far as I know, persimmons do not can well. But you can put up persimmon nectar or persimmon butter. There are many recipes on the internet. Freezing is a much better option for persimmons than canning. You also might dehydrate some. Peel and slice them into 1/4″ slices and dehydrate until quite dry. I haven’t done this, but I remember that my elderly Virginia aunt told about drying persimmons, so you might give it a try and see how they turn out. Any readers have any more information for Brenda? — Jackie

Rhubarb and canning super-sweet corn

A couple things your followers might need to know:
It is possible for rhubarb stalks to be poisonous. When rhubarb freezes in the garden, oxalic acid goes from the leaves into the stalks. Check out:

Sweet corn growers need to chose the variety of seed carefully. When canning supersweet sweet corn, it caramelizes in the jar and becomes brown and tastes burned. I had to throw out an entire canner load because of this. What a complete waste! See this article, page 3. .

Bonnie Rieder
Lone Rock, Wisconsin

That’s interesting about the rhubarb; I’ve used it my whole life, as did my Mom and grandmas. Evidently we never used any that had been frozen by late spring freezes. Mine doesn’t come up until most severe freezing weather is done and it does take quite a bit of freezing without damage. Freezing damage is indicated by watery looking, droopy leaves with an abnormal color. After reading about this, I sure wouldn’t harvest any rhubarb stalks when the leaves exhibited these symptoms following a period of low freezing temperatures.

As for the super sweet corn — yes, it can do this. But I’ve canned quite a bit of it in the past without having it do this. It’s best to use pints and half-pints and not make creamed corn from super sweets. Better yet, freeze and eat the super sweets fresh and choose other sweet corns to can. — Jackie


  1. Grape seed oil and other oils: Bountiful Gardens catalog has a Piteba oil press that they say is “suitable for almost any oil containing seeds with at least 25% oil in the seed”. It’s hand crank, needs no power, costs $164. Catalog number is SOI-9418. Lehman’s also sells it, but for $189.95 as item 30340100. Or go to There’s also a YouTube video made by Piteba of the oil press. I have not used it. The online reviews are mixed.

  2. Miss Iris:

    I’ll bet Miss Minna’s chickens were real happy as well as being healthy! Just think of those eggs! I wish I could grow even one walnut tree; I doubt I’d share it with the hens, though. I knew an old lady that shot and canned woodchucks, during the Depression, to feed her little fox terrier. You do what you can with what you’ve got. Aren’t we homesteaders an inventive bunch, though?

  3. During farm days in East Texas, I often heard my mother talk about Miss Minna cracking walnuts to feed her chickens during the Depression. They were free range chickens with a hen house and a place to lay eggs. Today, we hear so much about Omega’s in eggs and I wonder if Miss Minna’s chickens weren’t laying some of the healthiest eggs imaginable. Miss Minna lived to be 94 years old and still lived on the farm where she had those chickens. Food for thought.

  4. Christine,

    Yep, I know about those little cars and bumpy roads. Fortunately, the Festiva seems okay. A friend of ours drives one and a neighbor raves about his. Long ago, we had a little Honda Civic when we lived near Sturgeon Lake. It put over 200,000 miles on, chiefly over bumpy gravel and pot-holed country roads. Other than front end repairs, it performed well. So we’re satisfied we are doing okay with our new purchase. We still have the truck and Taurus for heavier hauling and long distances.

  5. Ellendra,

    I’m having Will look into the “producer gas” idea; I’ve never heard about it before. As for the squash/pumpkin seeds; yes, we already do feed those to our poultry and goats and they love ’em. I know about acorns being a good animal feed, but unfortunately, there isn’t one oak tree growing on our 80 acres. We have planted several. Will even brought four he’d raised in his apartment in Washington here and we have planted them, as well. They survived one winter and grew a lot. I also bought a Burr Oak seedling and planted that…not only for animal feed in the future, but people feed too!

  6. Howard,

    We already feed our small or misshapen potatoes to our chickens, but we don’t have a hog right now, and not enough for the steers. Unfortunately, our garden isn’t large enough to grow MANY more potatoes. We Do feed all our excess garden produce/scraps to our animals. It is a great savings, alright!

  7. Be careful with those ‘high MPG’ cars – they’re very light with a narrow wheelbase and so NOT built to handle rural highways with all their little bumps and ridges. I had to drive an Aveo once when my Neon was in the shop, driving a rural mountain highway a hundred miles and back and everything the Neon handled with no problem (due to weight and wide wheelbase) grabbed and turned the Aveo’s tires. It took twice as long to get back to the dealership because doing the speed limit would have sent me off the road into the river.

  8. Everything will be going up a tremendous amount this year according to the National Inflation Assoc. Corn is one of the biggest jumps. I bought coffee the other day and it was $1.00 higher than last month but they had a ‘you save .44 sale sign on it. I guess if one didn’t know how much the coffee was last month you’d think it was a sale. I don’t call raising the price $1.00 and then giving me $.44 off of that higher price a sale….. Sheesh!!! Time to buy bulk coffee beans online and start grinding those instead. It’s getting dicey out there…..

  9. I’ve been reading up on “producer gas”, which is basically running an engine off the smoke and fumes from burning wood or charcoal. It can be done with some existing engines, some take more modifying than others. Might this be an option for a gas-less generator?

    Also, I don’t know if you throw out the seeds from your squash and pumpkins (other than what you save for planting), but these might be a potential high-protein grain substitute for your livestock. Acorns are also a good source of protein in moderation, although they can cause egg yolks to turn green if fed to laying hens.

  10. A few ideas you might try to reduce your dependence on boughten grains. You do well growing potatoes. Put in a few extra rows and sort all theculls and smalls as feed potatoes. I understand that for hogs and chickens you need to cook spuds to get full feed value. Put a pan of potatoes on the wood stove and boil till soft. Add a small amount of cracked grain to the liquid and mash together. Try and adjust amount so that the warm mash is consumed.
    This will also perk up the hens in the winter. I’m sure you already feed them any waste milk etc. As a rule potatoes contain 16% pprotein on a dry basis.
    If you have lots of surplus potatoes you can suplement cattle with them raw but you need to chop them up to avoid choking. A sharpened square shovel can be used for this in small quantity. An old farmer taught me this trick. During WWII he used potatoes to suplement his dairy when grain was in short supply.
    Hope these ideas help someone.

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